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Important Old Master Paintings

Christie's

January 27, 2010

Sale 2282

"Madonna and Child with Goldfinch" by Pseudo Piero Francesco Fiorentino

Lot 1, "Madonna and Child with a Goldfinch," by Pseudo-Pier Francesco Fiorentino, tempera and oil and gold on panel, 25 1/4 by 18 3/8 inches

By Carter B. Horsley

The Old Master Paintings auction at Christie's January 27, 2010 has several very works including an exquisite Pseudo-Pier Francesco Fiorentino, a lovely Rubens oil sketch, two excellent paintings by Cranach, a lush landscape by Gainsborough and a very poetic and large Corot.

Lot 1 is the Pseudo Pier Francesco Fiorentino (active Florence, second half of the 15th Century. It depicts the Madonna and Child with a goldfinch. A tempera and oil with gold on panel, it measures 25 1/4 by 18 3/8 inches.

It was formerly in the collections of Adolphe Stocklet of Brussels and the British Rail Pension Fund Collection. It was acquired by William and Bernadette Berger at Sotheby's in Lodon July 3, 1996 for 166,500 pounds.

It has a modest estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $290,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article. The sale, in which 64 percent of the offered lots were sold, totalled $39,526,500.

The lush leafy background is embossed and the Child's feet are a little awkward. It is included in Bernard Berenson's 1932 "Italian Pictures of the Renaissance" and his 1963 "Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, Florentine School," and in Philip Hendy's "European and American Paintings in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston" "under Pesellino's Madonna and Child as 'versio no. 4.'" It was exhibited at Leeds Castle in Kent on loan from 1980 to 1990..

The catalogue provides the following commentary on this work:

"This remarkably well-preserved panel has been ascribed to the Pseudo-Pier Francesco Fiorentino, a name coined by Berenson in 1932 (Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, p. 450) to describe an artist whose work was previously confused with that of Pier Francesco Fiorentino, a follower of Benozzo Gozzoli and Neri di Bicci. The numerous works attributed to this anonymous master do not in fact resemble Pier Francesco's oeuvre and are instead well-crafted adaptations of paintings by Pesellino and Filippo Lippi. A few are copies of whole compositions, such as the Virgin Adoring the Christ Child in the chapel of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence, which replaced Lippi's original. The Pseudo-Pier Francesco works derived from Lippi's designs (all from paintings dating from the 1450s) often combine motifs from more than one composition. Pesellino's Madonnas (e.g. Ohio, Toledo Museum of Art) were another frequent resource. Works by Pseudo-Pier Francesco are all characterised by a lavish, archaic use of gold leaf, and many include elaborate rose-hedge backgrounds, probably derived from Domenico Veneziano.

"Zeri was the first to suggest that this body of works was not produced by one painter but rather by a workshop (F. Zeri, 'Un riflesso di Antonello da Messina a Firenze', Paragone, ix, 99, 1958, pp. 16-21). He published a Virgin and Child (on the art market, Italy), in which the figure of the Virgin is taken from Antonello da Messina's Virgin Annunciate (Munich, Alte Pinakothek). Zeri categorized the painters of these mass-produced works more accurately than Berenson identifying them as 'The Lippi-Pesellino Imitators'.

"The present work is derived from Pesselino's Madonna and Child with a Swallow, now in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Musuem, Boston. Apart from substituting the architectural background of that work for one made up of climbing red and white roses, the artist of the present work has chosen to depict the Christ Child holding a goldfinch, rather than a swallow, and has added a parapet in the foreground, on which appears another goldfinch and a pomegranate, both symbols of the Resurrection.

"The second recorded owner of the present work, Adolphe Stoclet (1871-1949), was a Belgian industrialist who commissioned the architect Josef Hoffmann to build Palais Stoclet in Brussels between 1907-11, with the interiors designed by Gustav Klimt and Fernand Knopff. His wife, Suzanne, was a niece of the painter Alfred Stevens. Madame Stoclet apparently coordinated the colors of the flowers in the vases with the ties Stoclet wore. Amongst the early Italian works collected by the Stoclets was Duccio's Madonna and Child, which was sold privately through Christie's in 2004 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York."

As any visitor to I Tatti knows, a large and very beautiful Madonna and Child by Domenico Veneziano was given the place of honor in the living room. I Tatti was Berenson's home outside Florence. This work has little to do stylistically with Gozzoli and the embossed background is not a signature component of Lippi. The very high quality of the composition and its size suggests that it may in fact be closely related to Veneziano who has left us very few works.

"Christ on the Cross" by Filippino Lippi

Lot 2, "Christ on the Cross," by Filippino Lippi, oil and gold on panel, 12 1/4 by 9 1/4 inches

Lot 2 is a small painting of the crucifixion by Filippino Lippi (Prato, 1457-1504) that is an oil and gold on panel that measures 12 1/4 by 9 1/4 inches. It was formerly in the collections of Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi of Florence and Senator and Mrs. Simon Guggenheim of New York who gave it to the Denver Art Museum in 1955. It was included in the "Masterpieces of Art" exhibition at the New York World's Fair in 1939.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"This small panel is one of three versions of this composition by Filippino Lippi. The other two (England, private collection; and New Haven, Yale University Art Museum) are close in size but are more compromised in condition. In them Lippi repeats the figure of Christ from the central panel of his Valori altarpiece (previously Berlin, Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum, destroyed). The altarpiece The Crucifixion with the Madonna and Saint Francis; Saint John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene was commissioned by Niccolò Valori circa 1498-1500 for a family chapel in San Procolo, Florence. The altarpiece was removed, dismembered and sold under Napoleon in 1808; the central panel was acquired by the Museum in Berlin in 1821, where it was later destroyed. Jonathan Katz Nelson considers these small paintings to be autograph, independent works by the artist and close collaborators, not merely a series of reduced studio versions of the altarpiece."

The lot has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $122,500.

"Bacchus at the Wine Vat" by Cranach

Lot 6, "Bacchus at the Wine Vat," by Lucas Cranach The Elder, oil on panel, 23 1/4 by 15 1/2 inches

Lot 6 is a fine painting of "Bacchus at the Wine Vat" by Lucas Cranach the Elder (Kronach 1472-1553). An oil on panel, it measures 23 1/4 by 15 1/2 inches. It was formerly in the collection of Prince Alexis Orloff of Paris and Saul P. Steinberg. It has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It failed to sell.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"The present work is unique in Cranach's oeuvre since, unusually for an artist whose output was seemingly geared to multiplicity, it was not repeated by himself or his studio. Bacchus, the god of wine (and fertility) whose rites were often accompanied by frenzied orgies, was a popular subject in the art of the Italian Renaissance, inspired no doubt by antique Roman prototypes. To the humanists of the Renaissance, Bacchus's passionate spirit stood in direct contrast to the rational and civilized side of man's nature, as exemplified by Apollo. In sculpture and in painting, artists such as Mantegna, Donatello, Michelangelo and Piero di Cosimo all approached the subject as a means to show the humorous effects of alcohol on man. Cranach's depiction of the subject, however, is both singular and complex. Seated at the left of the composition is Bacchus, who in classical iconography is depicted as a handsome youth. Here he appears to have been fused with Silenus, a fat, drunken, old man who was a member of Bacchus's retinue. However, the facial features of Bacchus appear to be individual and it therefore seems likely that is it is an actual portrait, perhaps of a patron, friend or some then-recognizable public figure. The artist must have been aware of Hans Baldung Grien's woodcut of 1520, Drunken Bacchus Surrounded by Children at a Wine Vat....A further source may have been Hans Schlegel's carved relief of Bacchus Among the Children on the portal of Mansfeld Castle which Cranach had visited and included in the background of his hunt scene of 1529. Cranach's composition, however, takes the antics of the inebriated putti a stage further as they engage in fighting, imbibe wine and generally show the physical effects of drink. The artist also introduces into the scene a recumbent young female nude in the foreground and an ugly old woman who appears to enable and encourage the behavior of the children. It is unclear what the precise relevance or role of these figures is, but together they evoke the theme of the Ages of Man. The present work is also notable for being an extremely rare and early image of wine making. The wine in the vat appears to be undergoing a type of open fermentation and given the German origins of the work, it is likely to be a type of Riesling....The present work was almost certainly intended to have a double meaning. It is an amusing image of the effects of alcohol, of course, but it also suggests a moralizing message. Cranach was cognoscent of contemporary humanist trends and fully aware of the related literature that had wide currency at the time. A Latin handbook published in 1511 for the students of Wittenburg University warned through images and text against the effects of drink and chastised those who became drunk in the service of Bacchus, advising instead a life of virtue and study. Similarly, this painting, while meant to be enjoyed as a visual rendering of the excesses of human behavior, would have also been understood by a contemporary audience as transmitting a strong warning against immorality."

"Judith & Holofernes" by Cranach

Lot 7, "Judith and Holofernes," by Lucas Cranach the Elder, oil on panel, 8 1/4 by 5 1/4 inches

Lot 7, "Judith and Holofernes," is another fine work by Cranach. An oil on panel that measures 8 1/4 by 5 1/4 inches, it is signed with the artist's devie of a dragon with wings folded. It was formerly in the collection of Lawrence Fleischman of New York. It has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $866,500.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Cranach executed more than a dozen versions of the subject of Judith and Holofernes throughout his career. The main prototype appears to be the large panel of circa 1530, now in the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart....The present work has been identified as a mature work by the artist, datable to circa 1545. It is also the most diminutive of the known autograph versions but sacrifices nothing in the quality of its draftsmanship or exquisite detail. The juxtaposition between the energetic veins in the marble shelf, the gruesome coldness of Holofernes's severed head and the sensitivity of Judith's features reveals the artist at his most expressive. The subject of Judith and Holofernes became popular in the Middle Ages as an image of virtue overcoming vice or an allegory of man's misfortunes at the hands of scheming women. Judith, a patriotic Jewish heroine, became a symbol of the Jews' struggle against their ancient oppressors in the Near East. The Assyrian army, under the command of their general Holofernes, had laid siege to the Jewish city of Bethulia. When the inhabitants were on the point of capitulating, Judith, a wealthy young widow, devised a scheme to save them. She adorned herself 'so as to catch the eye of any man who might see her'...and set off with a maid into the enemy lines. By pretending to desert her people, she gained access to Holofernes and proposed to him a fictitious scheme for overcoming the Jews. After she had been several days in the camp, Holofenes became enamored of her and planned a banquet to which she was invited. When it was over and they were alone, he intended to seduce her but he was quickly overcome with liquor. Judith seized his sword and with two swift blows severed his head. Taking the head in a sack, Judith and her maid made their way back to Bethulia before the deed was discovered. The murder threw the Assyrians into disarray and they fled, pursued by the Israelites."

"Alexander and Roxana" by Rubens

Lot 28, "Alexander and Roxana," by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, oil on panel, 15 1/4 by 13 7/8 inches

One of the highlights of the auction is Lot 28, "Alexander and Roxana," an oil sketch on panel by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen, Westphalia 1577-1640). It measures 15 3/4 by `3 7/8 inches. It has a conservative estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $542,500.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Previously unpublished and recently rediscovered, this oil sketch can be identified with the small panel that appeared at auction in Paris on 23 February 1778, as part of the property of '[Marquis] De Nogaret et autres amateurs: [Rubens] - Une superbe composition de huit figures, represéntant un Guerrier accompagne de l'Hymen, & de plusieurs Amours qui sont prêts a couronner une femme qui est assise sur un lit: cette esquisse avancée est du plus beau de ce maître'. Some thirteen years later it reappeared at the celebrated Lebrun sale in Paris, now accurately identified as depicting the marriage of Alexander and Roxana. Jean Baptiste Pierre Lebrun (1743-1813), husband of Elizabeth Louis Vigée, was a painter, art dealer and critic. He was also garde des tableaux to the Comte d'Artois (brother of the guillotined Louis XVI) and the Duc d'Orléans. The present work was sold alongside 19 others given to Rubens including some of the artist's finest oil sketches such as The Abduction of Prosperine (lot 72; Petit Palais, Paris), Samson and Delilah (lot 73; Cincinnati Art Museum) and Charity (lot 78; Mead Art Museum, Amherst College). The panel was then included in the posthumous sale of another leading Parisian dealer, Vincent Donjeux at Lebrun in 1793, at the height of the French Revolution. Rubens painted several versions of the subject of the marriage of Alexander and Roxana and there has been debate as to the hierarchy and chronology of the surviving canvases. Professor Elizabeth McGrath published the canvas now in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem as representing Rubens's first large scale treatment of the subject but not necessarily the prime original.....A number of studio versions and later copies of this pattern are recorded including one formerly in the Hannover collection (sold Sotheby's, Schloss Marienburg, 6 October 2005, lot 415). Professor McGrath identifies as a later but closely related type, the half-length composition at Schloss Wörlitz, which Rubens painted for Amalia van Solms, Princess of Orange. The present modello exhibits a number of significant differences to any of the other known versions of the subject produced by Rubens or his studio and is closest to his likely textual source, Lucian's Herodotius or Aetion (4-6). These variances are particularly evident in the pose of Roxana and the cupid who, in a reversed position to other works, unties her sandal. Other changes include the placement of the putto hiding under Alexander cloak and the one removing Roxana's veil. These elements were modified in later productions while the artist added further details such as a small dog cowering under the table which has additional paraphernalia on it....Intervention by a later hand, principally in peripheral areas such as the curtain and the edge of the bed would explain contrasting levels of quality in the present work. This may have occurred either to address areas of damage or to bring it to a higher level of finish. Rubens's illustrations of the theme of Alexander and Roxana have been linked with both the artist's own marriage and that of his brother. However, the subject also held more general appeal whether as a story from the life of Alexander, a portrayal of the union of East and West or as an image of the power of love. Alexander married Roxana, the daughter of Oxyartes of Balkh, a chieftain of Sogdiana, in 327 B.C. Balkh was the last of the Persian Empire's provinces to fall to Alexander, and the marriage was arranged primarily as a means of reconciling the Bactrian governors to Alexander's rule. However, Plutarch commented that Roxana was 'the only passion which he, the most temperate of men, was overcome by' (Life of Alexander, 33:47). She accompanied him on his campaign in India in 326 B.C., and bore him a son, Alexander IV Aegus, who was born after Alexander's sudden death in Babylon in 323 B.C."

"La Cascade" by Robert

Lot 32, "La Cascade: a Rocky Hillside with a Peasant Woman and Child Near a Waterfall and Boys Resting by a Blasted Tree," by Hubert Robert, oil on canvas, 36 by 57 1/4 inches

The auction has two large landscapes by Hubert Robert (Paris 1733-1808). Lot 32 measures 36 by 57 1/4 inches and is entitled, "La Cascade: a Rocky Hillside with a Peasant Woman and Child and Boys Resting by a Blasted Tree." It has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $242,500.

"Le pont sur le torrent" by Robert

Lot 33, "Le pont sur le torrent," by Hubert Robert, oil on canvas, 162 by 242 inches

Lot 33, Le pont sur le torrent," measures 162 by 242 inches. An oil on canvas, it has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It failed to sell.

It was commissioned by the Duc de Luynes (1748-1793), for the dining room of the Hôtel du Luynes, rue Saint-Dominique, Paris, circa 1785-1786 and was formerly in the collection of William Randolph Hearst.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Hubert Robert's vast canvas depicting a wild torrent of roaring waters that descend into a waterfall, surmounted by an ancient, arched bridge and peopled with laundresses and fishermen, is one of the largest works that the artist ever attempted - it measures nearly 20 feet wide - as well as one of the best documented. It was commissioned in the mid-1780s by the Duc de Luynes (1748-1793) for the dining room of his opulent townhouse in the rue Saint-Dominique in the Quartier Saint-Germain in Paris, along with a pendant of identical size depicting a more placid landscape also featuring a waterfall. In payment for the two paintings - and perhaps for the promise of other works as well - Robert was granted on the 22 March 1786 the immense sum of 25,000 livres in principal by the duke, which provided the artist with a rente (or annuity) of 2000 livres a year in interest payments for life....It was an indication of the high position Robert held in the Parisian art world of the time, as few painters of the era were paid anything approaching that amount for two paintings, regardless of their size....they were not included in the duke's estate sale on 21 December 1793. They remained part of the decor of the hôtel, where they were installed in boiserie paneling and they were still in place when the inventaire aprés décès of the duchesse de Luynes was drawn up in 1813. The family finally disassembled the room and sold the pair of paintings at auction in Paris on 25 June 1900, in a sale consisting of just the two lots, where they were acquired by the Duc de Gramont, who owned them for the next quarter of a century. At the Gramont auction at Galerie Georges Petit in 1925, both paintings were purchased by agents of the art dealer, Sir Joseph Duveen, who was acting on behalf of the legendary American newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. The extensive Hearst archives indicate that the two paintings by Robert arrived at the Bronx warehouse to which Duveen had them delivered in 1929, where they were photographed and meticulously inventoried. Evidently, they were subsequently installed in the beachfront castle that Hearst purchased in late 1927 in Sands Point, Long Island as a retreat for his wife, Millicent Hearst. As most of the renovations to the house were carried out in 1929, it may be that the paintings stayed only briefly in the warehouse on their way to the new residence. Mrs. Hearst's taste ran to 18th-century French decor, and she had the Parisian firm Jansen fit out a number of reception rooms with boiserie paneling and Louis XVI furnishings. It has not yet been established which room (or rooms) the Roberts occupied, but archived photographs record their appearance in the newly refurbished interiors. In the financial crisis of the mid-1930s, when Hearst had to refinance tens of millions of dollars in bonds, he looked into selling a group of artworks, including the paintings by Robert....Nevertheless, he retained them until 1943, when the Argentine dealer Paula de Konigsberg bought the two paintings for her art gallery, La Passe, from whom the present owners acquired Le Pont sur le Torrent along with the original Jansen paneling in which it had been installed (fig. 1). (La Passe gallery purchased all of the Jansen paneling from Sands Point, receipts indicate, in June 1939, including the boiserie from Mrs. Hearst's reception room.) Le Pont sur le Torrent had evidently been separated from its pendant at this point, and La cascade subsequently reappeared at auction in Paris in 1963 (sold, Paris, Palais Galliera, 13 June 1963, lot 15); regrettably, the immense painting had by that date been cut into four pieces that were marouflaged onto a single board, with a significant portion of the original composition lost. (The four reassembled fragments of La cascade were sold again recently at auction in Paris....Le Pont sur le Torrent has enjoyed a far happier fate, and it retains all of the spectacular power, energy and vivacity with which Robert originally endowed it, a masterpiece of decorative painting that transcends the usual limitations of the genre through its imposing scale, evocative palette, classical design and acutely observed details. Robert had earlier executed more modest paintings with similar compositions - a small panel from the early 1770s that appeared in the Van Doorn sale (New York, Parke Bernet, 6 December 1958) is very comparable in design, for example - but the dramatic increase in scale imbues the present work with a dominating presence that is very nearly cinematic, and it has few equals among French paintings of the Ancien Régime in its epic sense of nature's power and sublimity."

"The Evening Star" by Corot

Lot 39, "L'Etoile du Berger (The Evening Star," by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot, oil on canvas, 44 1/8 by 57 1/8 inches

Lot 39 is a large, lyrical landscape by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (Paris 1796-1875). It is entitled "The Evening Star" and is an oil on canvas that measures 44 1/8 by 57 1/8 inches. It is dated 1863 and has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It failed to sell.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"This extraordinary painting is among the least known, but arguably most accomplished, examples of one of Corot's most famous compositions. Particularly large in scale, Étoile du Berger has the visual poetry and glowing light that were the hallmarks of the artist's nostalgic landscapes, also known as 'souvenirs', which occupied such a large part of the artist's oeuvre in the last 15 years of his life. To the poet Charles Baudelaire, these paintings had a transparent softness which reflected the 'twilight of the soul' ('le crépuscule d'âme') and, according to the art critic Etienne Moreau-Nélaton, the other large version of this painting was 'one of the those evening paintings, golden and melancholy, that were a specialty of his, and that he rendered with such deep feeling'....Martin Dieterle and Claire Lebeau, authors of the ongoing supplements to Alfred Robaut's catalogue raisonné, refer to this painting as being 'from a pictorial point of view the most spontaneous and dynamic, possibly most beautiful' of the five versions of the composition. Its recent emergence sheds an important light on the genesis of the composition.
The painting is described in a Claudian idiom, mixing an idealized landscape with pastoral motifs, and using light to unify the whole composition. A young, classically dressed woman reaches out towards the sky, her outstretched hand echoed by the branch above her. Almost half the area of the composition is made up of sky and water, the limpid tones of which suffuse the composition with an overall sense of calm, while a few flecks of red and green give a gentle vibrancy to the whole work. In the background, a shepherd drives his flock along the water's edge towards the setting sun. The story of how the painting acquired its title is largely anecdotal. According to one story, related by Daniel Baud-Baudry in 1957, the painting is a Proustian souvenir which recalls lines by Musset sung to Corot by Zoë - Daniel's future mother - while she brushed the artist's hair during his stay with the family in Switzerland in 1864: 'Pâle étoile du soir, messagère lointaine/Dont le front sort brillant des voiles du couchant (Pale evening star, far off messenger Whose face shines out through the veil of fading light)'. The art critic Henri Dumesnil, writing immediately after Corot's death in 1875, simply saw the painting as a tribute to Musset, who had been one of the first to publicly recognize Corot's talent in his article on the Salon of 1836 in the Revue des Deux Mondes. Dumesnil wrote: 'Between these two spirits there must have been a natural affinity, and the painter later responded to the small tribute he had received by creating the painting he entitled, L'Étoile du soir'. The painting written about by Dumesnil and Moreau-Nélaton was dated 1864 (fig. 1) and bought the same year by the Union Artistique of Toulouse after being sent there by Corot. Baud-Baudry's tale of events is clearly apocryphal, since as early as February 1864, a smaller repetition of the painting (today in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore) was ordered directly from Corot by George Lucas, the Paris agent for the Baltimore collector, William Walters. The date of 1864 on the Toulouse painting was almost certainly added just before Corot sent it for exhibition. Indeed, Walters' commission notwithstanding, the existence of the present painting - dated 1863 - confirms suspicions raised by Moreau-Nélaton, Robaut and Dumesnil that the painting known to them and of which Lucas ordered a replica had had a long gestation. Moreau-Nélaton wrote that "Either I'm sadly mistaken, or L'Étoile du Berger of 1864 hides a previous 'state', exhibited earlier with a less suggestive title and recorded in the Paris register under the somewhat vague name Soirée - easy for an artist who leaves to others the task of baptizing his works 'literarily'" ....The existence in the Toulouse painting of pentiments, notably the shape of a tree, clearly visible to the right of the remaining single tree in the centre, suggests that it was a tryout for the present, more finished work, and the two smaller repetitions which followed (the Walters picture and a later replica executed in collaboration with Achille Oudinot; the dating of another unsigned, much darker and less finished variant is uncertain). Very slightly smaller than the Toulouse painting, the present work was executed with a thinner palette to create a lighter, more silvery atmosphere, and the colors, particularly in the tree canopy, are brighter and more pronounced."

"Wooded landscape" by Gainsborough

Lot 56, "Wooded Rocky Landscape with Mounted Peasant, Drover and Cattle and Distant Building," by Thomas Gainsborough, oil on canvas, 24 1/2 by 29 1/2 inches

Lot 56 is a fine landscape by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) entitled "Wooded Rocky Landscape with Mounted Peasant, Drover and Cattle and Distant Building. An oil on canvas, it measures 24 1/2 by 29 1/2 inches. It has a conservative estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It failed to sell.

It is being sold by the Tacoma Art Museum to benefit its acquisitions Fund.

The catalogue provides the following commentary by Dr. Hugh Belsey, M.B.E.:

"Founded in 1935 by a group of civic-minded volunteers and arts patrons, Tacoma Art Museum has grown to become a national model for regional, mid-sized museums. As the museum celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2010, it continues to dedicate itself to exhibiting and collecting Northwest art, with the mission of connecting people through art. Tacoma Art Museum opened its current 50,000-square-foot Antoine Predock-designed facility in 2003. Predock drew inspiration from the region's light, its relationship to the water, the neighborhood's industrial history and character, Mount Rainier, the Thea Foss Waterway, and the surrounding structures in what is now known as Tacoma's Museum District, which also includes the Museum of Glass and the Washington State History Museum. Since Tacoma Art Museum began collecting in 1963, it has built a permanent collection of artwork by international, national, and regional artists. The museum's rich collection contains more than 3,600 works, with an emphasis on art by Northwest artists, one of the finest collections of Japanese woodblock prints on the West Coast, and key holdings of nineteenth-century European and twentieth-century American art. The museum's permanent collection includes the premier collection of Tacoma-native Dale Chihuly's glass artwork on permanent public display. This work by Thomas Gainsborough was gifted to the museum by an anonymous donor with the expressed intent of being sold to generate funds for art acquisition. Funds will be used to increase the museum's holdings within its areas of collecting focus, primarily Northwest art and nineteenth- and twentieth-century American and European art....The re-emergence of the present work represents an exciting rediscovery and it has not been seen in public since its last appearance at auction at Christie's in London in 1916. The present work was painted as a pair to another canvas and they remained together for one hundred and thirty years. It companion, A Wooded Landscape with a Herdsman, Cows and Sheep near a Pool was recently offered at Christie's, New York, 15 April 2008, as lot 57 where it sold for $5,752,000, a record price for a work by the artist at auction....The rustic simplicity of a mounted drover deep in conversation with a local peasant with his charge of four cows and a goat belie the sophistication and melodic elegance of the composition. The unassuming scale of the canvas, the size of a standard head-and-shoulders portrait, demonstrates that Gainsborough has put the competitive irritations of the Royal Academy behind him so that he could concentrate on pure landscape and satisfy his own intense feelings for the subject....The idea of painting complimentary compositions to show two aspects of landscape had been used by many artists in the 18th century. Gainsborough had already used the idea before. One such pair, painted nearly forty years earlier, now hang together in Gainsborough's House, Sudbury. As Malcolm Cormack remarked they 'express a placidity and movement, a sort of L'Allegro and Il Penseroso of classical landscape translated into Gainsborough's own more naturalistic forms'. The two landscapes of 1786 show similar characteristics - lushness versus rockiness, receding planes versus a centralised composition, tranquillity versus action....The composition of the tranquil landscape was rehearsed in a simpler landscape painting now in Tate Britain in London and the design of the landscape presently being offered at Christie's first appeared in a couple of drawings made in the late 1770s....The composition had remained dormant in Gainsborough's mind for nearly a decade and the differences between drawing and painting are instructive. The drawing shows a group of packhorses skirting a rocky outcrop with a building perched on top, a pollarded tree on the right with a couple of figures to the left. Brilliant sunshine articulates the view with strong shadows. The drawing is tranquil and shows a sense of purpose and companionship between the journeymen, horses and dog. The painting shows a starker scene with the men and animals in an untamed landscape. The landscape has not been managed - there are no pollarded trees - there are no signs of habitation, except a glimpse of a grand house in a distant valley, and a drover who is travelling a long distance, as many did, to sell his cows and goat, appears to be lost. To judge from the enigmatic gesture of his guide, he may have strayed from his intended route. Significant too is the absence of a church tower on the horizon, unlike the companion canvas (and many others by the artist) this symbol of the divine presence is missing. But the handling of the paint, the sureness of touch and the extraordinary tonality of the painting give the work an unwavering confidence. The intensity of salmon pink dabs on the repoussoir log in the bottom right distill the tones of the path and provide a sense of impending movement to the central group that have been frozen in their tracks by the bulbous cloud hanging overhead. The intensity of the pink, a color Gainsborough often used for the ground of his paintings, is heightened as it juxtaposes the optical opposites of the sage and blue greens of the foliage, making the composition more vibrant around the varied browns and creams of the central group. Subtlety of this distinction is rare in any landscape painting."

 

See The City Review article on the Important Old Masters auction at Sotheby's Winter 2009

See The City Review article on the Important Old Masters auction at Christie's January 28, 2009

See The City Review article on the Old Master Paintings auction at Christie's April 15, 2008

See The City Review article on the Old Master Paintings auction at Christie's April 19, 2007

See The City Review article on the January 27, 2005 Important Old Masters Auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the January, 2004 Old Masters auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the January 24, 2003 Old Masters auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Winter 2001 Old Masters Paintings auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Winter 2001 Old Masters Paintings auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2001 Old Masters auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Old Masters auction at Christie's January 26, 2001

See The City Review article on the Important Old Master Paintings Auction at Sotheby's, Jan. 28, 2000

See The City Review article on the Recap of Old Master Paintings auction at Sotheby's May 28, 1999

See The City Review article on the Recap of Old Master Paintings auction at Christie's, May 25, 1999

 

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